“This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let . . . the wife see that she reverence her husband.” Ephesians 5:32-33
The Lord desires to demonstrate His relationship to the Church through the medium of Christian marriage, intending it to be a working scale model for all heaven and earth to observe. Paul calls this a “great mystery,” but illumines the concept further when the Holy Spirit leads him to add, “let the wife see that she reverence her husband.” Thus, a wife who shows respect and esteem for her husband will be exhibiting the final hallmark of one who desires to model a testimony of truth concerning the Church and the Lord Jesus.
In the context of the marriage analogy, this imperative does not appear to pivot upon the husband’s worthiness, but upon the honor due the office of husband as it parallels Christ’s relationship to His Bride, the Church. Therefore, a wife’s attitude and acts of respect for her husband are to be purposeful acts of her will that are not based upon her feelings for him or the performance of his role. In actuality, She is reverencing the Lord by obeying His command and, thus, making the respect shown to her husband an act of worship offered to God.
Setting the spiritual dimension aside for a moment, notice that the Lord is also offering some practical counsel to wives. Feelings of being undervalued and disrespected are a significant reason many men seek sex outside their marriage through extra-marital affairs, etc.* In a recent article published in Britain, one researcher had this to say about these matters: “Many men are not finding acceptance in their conventional monogamous relationships, and so these men become emotionally unconnected to their unsuspecting spouse and children. They seek a temporary high, a connection and an escape from reality in Gentlemen's Clubs, etc., or serial affairs.”*
In short, many husbands don’t feel respected (reverenced) at home, so they buy a substitute woman who is welcoming, undemanding, and accepting. (It is also not unusual for this same acceptance to be found for free among those women husbands encounter through the work place.) Christian women should not be surprised by these revelations when God, knowing the strong need men have to feel valued, has shown wives the remedy: “let the wife see that she reverence her husband.” Eph. 5:32.
So, if you truly want to speak love to your husband in a language that he can understand, speak it to him through respect. He will be much more likely to handle temptation from a place of strength. Your respect can serve much like a vaccination in warding-off the vulnerability that accompanies a man who does not feel valued. When you reverence your husband - - that is, express to him deep respect and honor - - the “reap what you sow” principle will also activate in your favor, and over time, your husband will respond in kind. The measure of how long this turnaround takes will be in proportion to amount bitterness that you have sown into your marriage.
Taken together, the manner in which a wife talks to and about her husband, her demeanor toward him, and the manner in which she treats him will form a complete expression of her esteem (or lack thereof). Thus, a woman will demonstrate her attitude toward her husband through her words, her actions, and her body language.
While each of these three means testify to the state of the heart (i.e. attitude), body language speaks much louder than the other two. Because it is largely involuntary, body language is often more truthful than the spoken word. It has been observed that as much as 80% of what we understand in any given conversation is read through the body, not the spoken word. Since body language will infallibly betray the attitude of her heart, it is singularly important for a wife to call upon God to help her cultivate a thankful, grateful, and humble heart. There is no other solution for altering body language than a changed heart. Pray that the Lord will give you a heart of mercy and forgiveness for your husband, so that your total being will convey the respect the Lord desires a wife to offer her husband.
Unless one partner is a sociopath of some sort, it takes two to create a bad marriage. In her book, Created to be His Help Meet, writer Debi Pearl states this truth: “Counselors agree that in all marriage conflicts, both husband and wife share the blame almost equally. A man’s guilt is usually easy to see, while a woman’s guilt may be less obvious, but it is just as destructive and just as evil.” She is referring to the female tendency to sins of the tongue. Every person (and this surely includes husbands) deserves the right to represent themselves to others, so if a reputation is to be ruined, it should be done by the individual in question - - not through the surrogacy of their spouse.
Therefore, a wife's refusal to speak ill of her husband to others is one very compelling way to express honor for him. In Proverbs 31, wherein a woman of virtue is extolled, Father has given His daughters a clear call to be a wife in whom her husband can trust. This one attribute, trustworthiness, is the first virtue mentioned by God in the passage. It is foremost in making her “more valuable than rubies” to her husband, and it begins with a wife to whom her husband can entrust his reputation. Perhaps the place this is most important is in the eyes of your children.
Sustaining your husband’s reputation by curbing any criticism before the children reveals a wisdom more rare and precious than gold. The Lord will praise the wife who does this. After children mature beyond the more nurture-needing stages of childhood that primarily involve a mother’s care, they begin to need the type of leadership and assistance that a father can bring. A wise mother has protected her husband’s reputation so the children will be open to receiving their father’s insight and direction through the coming stages of their lives.
In a marriage in which the father is the “bad actor,” it is equally important to consider that when the children are old enough to consider the claims of Christ, their mother’s gracious attitudes, words, and behavior will be hugely influential in comparison with that of their father’s. In maturity, those children will be able to see clearly what has gone down between their parents. Mom’s Lord will smell sweet to them, but Dad’s gods will repel.
Finally, the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 is one who speaks with a civil tongue: “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness,” Proverbs 31:26. Just to paraphrase this for you, Father is telling His daughters, “DON’T BE A SCOLD.” Conflicts that arise over questioning your husband’s judgment, or a failure to submit to his leadership, are huge setbacks. These events are not irreparable, but one flare of anger or one despising word will be immensely destructive to your efforts to improve your relationship and to align your marriage with a true reflection of Christ and His Bride.
The Puritans called marriage “the little church within the church.” In marriage, every day you love and every day you forgive. It is an ongoing sacrament - love and forgiveness. If, as a wife, you follow the course of respect for your husband to which the Lord has called you, you will truly be a woman who is reverencing God through your obedient actions. Don’t grow weary of doing well, and keep building your “little church” with acts of kindness, forgiveness and respect. The Lord God will bless you for your faithfulness to Him.
* I’m sure my readers understand my vague references in this paragraph. It was necessary for me to remove certain terminology and phrases to avoid being winnowed-out by filters and to prevent attracting comment from those searching specifically for those words for “other” reasons.